—Someone who hated Owner had destroyed his favorite treasure, a seiji from China.
I still couldn’t believe it.
But that unbelievable incident did happen in reality.
The seiji suddenly shattered into pieces in a locked room.
Who could have done this? And how did they do it?
Thinking about the two questions at the same time was confusing.
…Let’s start with who.
Who seems to hate Owner?
The producer, Kiyomizu-san, who had been harshly spoken to by Owner earlier.
Or perhaps his fellow appraiser Yanagihara-san actually detests him.
As for Hanamura-sensei, who teaches flower arrangement, and Masamune… they don’t seem to hate Owner.
And Akihito-san… I took a glance at the person in question, but he was shivering and his face was pale.
“Akihito-san, what’s the matter?”
“Ah, Aoi-chan, what should I do? I might have been the one who broke it!”
Akihito-san revealed in a small voice.
“That shattering sound was right after I fell on my bottom, right? What if the vibration…”
I found no words to say as he showed his frightened, tearful face.
Kaori and I exchanged looks.
I suppose a healing thread that goes too far could become a little annoying.
“…That kind of fall wouldn’t break a pot.”
I finally spoke in exasperation, causing Akihito-san to reply, “I, I see,” and brighten up with relief.
Yup, he definitely couldn’t have done it.
Anyway, even if Akihito-san envies Owner, he doesn’t hate him.
On the topic of people who might hate Owner, the fellow apprentices who used to be his rivals are also possible suspects.
As I frowned and groaned while thinking, I noticed Yoshie-san holding a pained expression out of the corner of my eye.
At that moment, her previous words drifted past my mind.
“Seiji-san’s abnormally passionate about antiques. He’s so engrossed in them that I once wanted to destroy his collection.”
Could it be… Yoshie-san didn’t hate Owner himself, but hated the antiques that he cared for more than anything else in the world, so she could also be the culprit.
No, if she’s a suspect, the same can be said of Manager.
Manager, who was filled with all sorts of negative feelings, probably hated Owner’s treasures (And come to think of it, he seemed weird today).
But then again, it’s impossible for Yoshie-san or Manager to have done it.
Regardless of how little appreciation they hold for antiques, I can’t imagine either of them destroying a world-class treasure.
But if one of them really did it, it wouldn’t be absurd to think that they had a duplicate key… Ahh, that’s enough! I’ll only keep thinking in circles, and I really don’t like how I’m suspecting the people close to me!
“Is something the matter?”
At that moment, Holmes-san’s voice resounded in the exhibition hall.
I felt relieved as his figure came into view.
Behind Holmes-san was Owner, who was already in his kimono. Everyone in the room stiffened.
“What’s wrong? Ya’ll look like we’re havin’ a funeral.”
As the two of them stepped into the exhibition hall, Yoshie-san burst into tears and clung onto Owner’s body.
“I’m so sorry, Seiji-san! Your seiji got broken! It’s all my fault!”
As she cried sorrowfully, everyone else exclaimed, “What?” and opened their eyes wide in surprise.
W-Was it really Yoshie-san’s handiwork?
“I always hated the seiji that you cared for so much! I thought that it would be great if I could just break it into pieces! That’s why it turned out like this. I’m so sorry!” Yoshie-san explained while bawling.
“…What are ya talking about?”
Owner frowned dubiously and shifted his gaze to the interior of the room. He gasped and widened his eyes upon seeing the broken pieces of the seiji.
“I’m really sorry.”
“N-No, Yoshie-san wasn’t at fault. Actually, at the party room…”
“No, it’s all because I fell hard on my bottom…”
We drew closer and recounted the chain of events leading up to the incident, but after we were done, Owner snorted.
“—That ain’t a seiji.”
In response to Owner’s distinct assertion, everyone stopped moving.
“The shape, color and luster of the broken pieces are all wrong. That’s a fake.”
We were all dumbfounded.
“But I don’t know what’s going on! Ask Kiyotaka!”
Owner announced proudly and looked at Holmes-san.
“…Feels good that my long list of duties even extends to this.”
Holmes-san shrugged ironically and approached the table.
His footsteps reverberated as a blank silence hung over the exhibition hall.
Everyone held their breath, caught in the tension running around the room.
“—Based on all your recounts of what happened earlier, I deduce that this incident is not a case of someone sneaking into the locked room. I believe that when the door was opened, the broken fake had already been swapped in for the genuine one.”.
Upon hearing those words, we raised our eyebrows and looked at each other.
“T-That can’t be. Not when all of us were in there.”
“I believe they used some trick to divert everyone’s attention from the seiji, then swapped it out during that time. That would mean that the real seiji is somewhere in this room.”
As he spoke, he swiftly flipped over the white tablecloth, revealing the seiji placed pristinely under the table.
“T-The seiji! It’s not broken!”
“Just a theory, but they probably drew everyone’s attention to the chandelier on the ceiling, or the painting on the opposite wall, then used that opening to swap it out.
“After that, they immediately exited the room and imitated my father’s voice to lead everyone to the party hall. They must have then returned to the exhibition hall and walked at the back of the crowd to prevent anyone else from seeing the shattered seiji. As for the sound you heard, I think it was made by someone’s voice. They waited for the right timing and executed their operation.”
After Holmes-san’s explanation, puzzled expressions appeared on our faces.
That was certainly possible, but who could do something like that…
“This is the work of people who can use their skills to guide the vision and action of others. The only people I can think of are the world-class performers, ‘Masamune’.”
As Holmes-san grinned, everyone exclaimed, “What?” in unison and turned to look at Masamune.
The two of them stared back at Holmes-san expressionlessly.
—Come to think of it…
At that time, Masataka-san said, “That’s an amazing chandelier!” and caused all of us to look at the ceiling.
During that time, Muneyoshi-san could have done the swap, left the room and imitated Manager’s voice to move everyone to the party room.
And then he could have quickly returned to Masataka-san’s side and acted as if he’d been there the whole time.
While we were leaving the exhibition hall, they then lagged behind the crowd to prevent others from seeing the broken seiji.
…I don’t remember clearly, but I think they were indeed the last ones out of the room.
The two men in question didn’t try to argue or defend themselves against Holmes-san’s claims. Kiyomizu-san stared at that in dumbfounded amazement.
“What? It’s really you two? Why would you play such a nasty prank?”
Kiyomizu-san leaned forward to interrogate them, but their only reaction to that was a slight curving upward of their mouths.
“I wonder if they’re related to the magician Don Kageyama…”
Holmes-san suggested, but Kiyomizu-san shook his head.
“No, they’re from different entertainment companies, and they shouldn’t have a master-student relationship.”
After hearing that, the two members of Masamune laughed ironically.
“We… were saved by Kageyama-san.”
Saved by Kageyama-san?
“Yes. We had no relatives in the world and were brought up in an orphanage, but Kageyama-san regularly came to our orphanage to hold magic shows as volunteer work.”
“He then even taught us magic tricks… we really looked up to him and wanted to become like him some day. He’s our benefactor who gave us hope and dreams.”
Everyone in the room displayed surprised expressions upon hearing that revelation, but only Holmes-san maintained a calm countenance. I couldn’t tell what he was thinking about.
“So, you wanted to retaliate against Yagashira-sensei for declaring that your benefactor’s treasure was a fake?”
Holmes-san nodded as Kiyomizu-san stepped forward even more to question them.
“That’s a very likely motive. The episode was not broadcasted, but that doesn’t change the fact that Mr. Kageyama lost face from that incident, and I hear that he received quite a shock.”
Bitter smiles appeared on the faces of Masamune.
“We were in the audience during that recording. We could never forget his face of disappointment, and we wanted to check if Yagashira Seiji can really tell what is genuine.”
“Yes, we always wondered how good his judgment was. If Yagashira Seiji sees his treasured seiji broken and becomes upset, we would mock him and say, ‘It’s just a fake!’ But of course, that failed.”
The two of them explained, then clicked their tongues, seemingly frustrated.
“Sorry, but you looked down on us too much. To our eyes, it was as if you swapped a white object for a black one. It was just that obvious.”
Holmes-san replied disgustedly and stared at them with cold eyes.
“…What’d you say, huh?”
Masataka-san snapped at Holmes-san and stepped forward aggressively.
Everyone stiffened, as if frozen from the tense, unstable atmosphere.
It was rare for Holmes-an to say something like that.
While he looked unruffled, he was undoubtedly pissed that an incident like this happened on a day of celebration for Owner.
Muneyoshi-san immediately put out a hand to block his partner and said, “Stop it, Masataka,” but that didn’t have any effect.
“…You’re called Yagashira Kiyotaka, right? If your judgment is as good as you say, then how about having a contest with me?”
Muneyoshi-san asked, then retrieved a pack of playing cards from his inner pocket and placed it on the table with a slam.
“…With playing cards?”
“Yeah. You fine with poker?”
“…Fine.” Holmes-san sat down in a chair in front of the table.
“Kiyotaka-san, if you lose, we’ll have you go down on your knees and apologize for bringing shame to our savior.”
Why does Owner have to apologize for calling a fake a fake in his appraisal?
I was taken aback by their lack of reason.
Even so, Holmes-san nodded and said, “Sure, we’ll have it your way,” causing a murmur to spread through the crowd.
“Hmph, acting all cocky, eh? Muneyoshi’s card skills are world-class.”
Masataka-san boasted as he placed a hand on Muneyoshi-san’s shoulder.
Muneyoshi-san nodded, spread the cards out in a fan shape so that the back picture could be clearly seen, then immediately brought the deck together again and shuffled it.
As expected of a world-class performer, his actions were brilliant to watch.
Finally, he distributed five cards each to himself and his opponent.
Once again, a wave of nervousness overcame me as Muneyoshi-san looked at his cards with a strong gaze.
Without even touching his cards, Holmes-san shrugged.
“Ah, this is impossible. It’s my loss.”
Everyone’s mouths went wide agape as Holmes-san threw up his hands, while his cards were still face down.
“Holmes-san, you should say that only after looking at your cards. You can change your cards in poker, too.”
“Exactly, Holmes-san! You don’t need to kneel to these people!”
As Akihito-san and I stepped forward, Holmes-san smiled weakly.
“Muneyoshi-san has two aces and three kings in his hand, and that makes a full house. Unfortunately, I only have a high card. Even if I try, I’ll only be able to get a pair, or a two pair at most, so it’s impossible to win.”
Holmes-san said regrettably, but kept smiling. In contrast, Muneyoshi-san’s eyes widened.
“H-How did you know?”
“It was when you first opened up the cards in a fan. Those were cards that had been arranged beforehand, in the order of a new pack. Due to your amazing shuffling, it seemed as if you’d split the cards well, but I could tell that the cards were back to the same arrangement. Since you placed the ace of spades on the top and you started dealing from the second card, I could tell that you had three aces and two kings. On top of that, when Masataka-san placed a hand on your shoulder at the start, he actually slipped cards into your collar, which slid into your sleeve, probably as a precaution. That was done really well, as if it were a show. I can’t win like this, but… you can’t call this a fair contest.”
As Holmes-san made that declaration with a smiling countenance, everyone in the room was lost for words.
A silence descended on the exhibition hall.
Holmes-san stood up without making a sound.
“W-What are you?”Masataka-san asked, his voice cracking.
“I’m just an appraiser-in-training. However, can I have you learn something from today?”
“W-What is it?”
I noticed that everyone was holding their breaths, just like the two members of Masamune.
Holmes-san gave a brief grin, then immediately switched to a sharp gaze.
“—It ain’t good to look down on our judgment.”
“!!” Overwhelmed by his intensity, Masamune stood stock still, as if they’d been frozen in place.
Once again, silence returned to the room.
“…That’s enough, Kiyotaka.”
Owner placed a hand on Holmes-san’s shoulder, then looked at the two entertainers.
“I’m sorry for shaming Kageyama-san in public.”
Owner gave a deep bow, causing the two performers to widen their eyes in surprise.
“I do feel apologetic from the bottom of my heart for hurting Kageyama-san with my words. What he brought in was an elaborate counterfeit. It was a brilliant article that could make people feel that it’s worth a huge sum. But a fake’s still a fake. I can’t call that genuine, no matter what. Once appraisers start saying that, it becomes recognized as a genuine article, and everything would become twisted.
“The mistake of an appraiser can lead to the bending of even history itself. It’s a huge responsibility that we must bear. That’s why, no matter how much money you spend or how much you plead, no matter how apologetic I feel, I can’t call a fake article genuine under any circumstances. That’s what I call the philosophy of judgment.”
Those words, spoken in a strong tone by Owner, left a great feeling in my heart.
Everyone else must have felt the same way, too.
—The philosophy of judgment.
After a brief moment, the two Masamune performers quietly said, then bowed.
“Actually, we thought that you couldn’t stand Kageyama-san for some reason, and arbitrarily called his treasure a fake.”
“And we also thought that even if it were fake, you should have read the atmosphere and told everyone it was genuine anyway…but that was really shallow of us.
“…It’s as he said. We were indeed looking down on your judgment.”
The two of them looked down in remorse, while Holmes-san displayed a gentle smile.
“It’s good that you understand.”
“Exactly, so enough of this talk. There’s still loads of food and wine. Let’s make another toast!” Owner shouted, causing everyone to laugh.
At that moment, Manager appeared.
“Some new guests have come to the party hall, and are looking for the host. Did something happen here?” He looked at us in confusion.
“What, the seiji is broken!”
“That’s a fake. It’s just a parlor trick by Masamune.”
“P-Parlor trick, you say?”
“Yup, just a parlor trick. So more guests came, huh. We’ll start up the party again. Everyone, let’s move over to the party hall!”
Owner walked off energetically, and everyone followed with smiles on their faces.
“As I thought, Holmes-san is really scary!”
Next to me, Kaori said as she hugged her body.
“Yeah, I also felt chills down my spine.”
“…” I looked down without saying a word.
Holmes-san’s intensity during that exchange was indeed frightening, and I could understand why they felt that way.
“Aoi-san, do you have the key for this room?”
As Holmes-san approached, Kaori and Akihito-san twitched in fright.
“Ah, yes. Sorry, I was holding on to it this whole time.”
I hurriedly held out the key, but Holmes-san shook his head.
“No, you don’t have to apologize. And thank you for holding on to it.”
After checking that all the guests had left the room, he locked the door to the exhibition hall.
“…I’m sorry you had to witness such an unsightly scene. I became too angry there.”
Holmes-san quietly muttered as we walked towards the party hall.
“No, it’s fine,” I replied and raised my head. I was startled to see Holmes-san with a miserable expression on his face.
“Aoi-san, you’re also afraid of me, right?” He asked uneasily.
“I’ve been like this in front of others in the past, and their faces were twisted with fear.”
I felt my chest tighten as Holmes-san put on a self-mocking smile.
Since he’s much sharper than others, he must have hurt many people in that way.
“…No, I’m not afraid at all. Just now, I could tell that you’re really proud of Owner. You looked so cool when you were trying to protect someone important to you. It was wonderful to see that.”
My response caused Holmes-san’s eyes to widen.
“Thank you, Aoi-san.”
In the next moment, he produced an unreserved smile, like that of a child.
“…” I was unable to look at him directly, so I averted my eyes.
I wonder why, but Holmes-san just seems to be going against the rules so much today.
“Kiyotaka!! Hurry up and get on over here!”
Owner’s bellow rang out, breaking the silence.
“Good grief,” Holmes-san said with a shrug.
“Seriously, I’m no match for him.”
“Owner’s a really wonderful person, though. I was moved by his speech earlier.”
“Yes, my grandfather is certainly a respectable master. If I can succeed him and surpass him some time…” Holmes-san muttered, as if he was talking to himself.
“Shall we go, then?” He walked on, grinning.
“Yes!” I gave a strong nod and followed after him.
I could see Owner’s figure surrounded by a crowd of people in the middle of the hall.
The National Appraiser, Yagashira Seiji, is indeed an amazing person.
Holmes-san will probably be the successor of such a person. And then he’ll inherit the philosophy of judgment, and everything that comes with it—
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